Quick Tips for Cross-Cultural Communication

Posted on Jul 23, 2015 | 2 comments

Quick Tips for Cross-Cultural Communication

One of the most common mistakes international professionals make when seeking a job in a foreign country is trying to use the same business communication tactics that worked in their home country. Unwritten communication rules are embedded in subtle societal norms that will become more apparent once you’ve familiarized yourself with the country. A good way to go about this is by viewing cultural expression on a spectrum that has Emotionally Expressive on one end, Emotionally Reserved on the other, and Variably Expressive in the middle.


Option 1: Emotionally Expressive Cultures

In social situations, people in an emotionally expressive culture are generally described as loud, open, and outgoing. You may find that doing business in an emotionally expressive culture is easier because they are naturally very emotive, and the ease with which you can read them will help you guide the conversation to your advantage. Without realizing it, emotionally expressive people tend to engage in more physical contact and leave less room for personal space. Regions that are typically described as emotionally expressive include Latin America, the Mediterranean, parts of Africa, and the Middle East.


Option 2: Emotionally Reserved Cultures

Emotionally reserved people are generally thought to be quiet, pensive, and sometimes aloof. They are the thinkers who move more with the mind than with the body and outward expression. Naturally, they feel most comfortable with less physical contact, reserving anything more than a handshake for immediate family and close friends. Because emotionally reserved people keep most of their ongoing train of thought at bay, you may find it difficult to read their emotions. If you yourself are from an emotionally expressive culture, you may find yourself at a loss for how to navigate communication until you develop a close relationship. Regions that are typically described as emotionally reserved include Eastern Asia and Northern Europe.


Option 3: Variably Expressive Cultures

Variably expressive cultures lie somewhere between Emotionally Expressive and Emotionally Reserved. People from these cultures have developed cultural communication norms for expression and physical contact that may share characteristics with both Emotionally Expressive and Emotionally Reserved cultures. It’s especially important with Variably Expressive cultures to research their specific communication cues. Regions that are typically described as variably expressive include North America, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Africa and Western Europe.


You can apply this cross-cultural communication approach by comparing it to how you naturally communicate and then using the comparison to prepare for your business interactions. This exercise will allow you to start developing an idea of the communication challenges you might face before you arrive to your destination country.


Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of your expression style?
  • How do you interact with people who are more expressive than you?
  • How do you interact with people who are less expressive than you?

Next, compare yourself to your destination:

  • Are they typically more or less expressive than you?
  • Have you interacted on a regular basis with people from this culture before?
  • How did those interactions go?
  • What can you improve on?


Do you have any tips for communicating cross-culturally? Leave them in the comments below!



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Kayla Neal, Marketing and Public Website Content Manager


  1. Good article, thanks.

  2. Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the issues.
    It was definitely informative. Your website is useful. Many thanks for sharing!

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